Photo by Michael Herron
"IT’S RACISM and I can prove it.”
The man’s face was dark, seamed
and weathered; his desert clothing
snowy white, his eyes steady.
We were sitting inside a half-tent
in a refugee camp called
Oure’ Cassoni, in the northeast corner
of Chad. It is home to 29,000 people
driven from their villages.
Chad borders Africa’s largest country,
Sudan. Just a few miles from the
camp is a region of Sudan bearing a
name that is haunting the world’s conscience:
The man to whom I spoke is one of
two million Darfuris who have been
driven from their villages, their homes
burned, tens of thousands of them
butchered, raped, tortured, beaten, their
cattle killed or stolen, their wells poisoned—sometimes with the bodies of
those who have been killed.
Incredibly, these horrors have been
visited on the Darfuris by their own
countrymen, with the tacit approval
and even the active support of their
own government in Khartoum.
The weathered Darfuri elder had listened
patiently for the translation of
my question, “Why are your neighbors
killing you and driving you from
After telling me it was racism, he
went on to explain. “Think about this,”
he said. “That man”—referring to
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir—“is Sudanese, I am Sudanese. He is Muslim,
I am Muslim. But he is Arab and I am
African. He has contempt for me. He
despises me. He wishes me to be dead.”
The elder had lost nine members of
his family in the attack on his village
more than a year earlier. The details of
the attack were much the same as I
heard from other refugees to whom I
spoke. This is how it would happen:
First would come the bombers, old
Russian-built aircraft, sometimes with
the Sudanese insignia crudely painted
out on the fuselage. They would rain
down high-explosive or antipersonnel
bombs on the helpless village.
Typically, that would be followed by
helicopter gunships, strafing anything
Then there would be a pause. It
might be an hour. It might be several
hours. Villagers, trying to recover from
the shock of the air attack, would hear
hoofbeats. Over the horizon would
come the janjaweed, which can be translated
as “devil riders.” These are rogue
militia from the more northern reaches
of Sudan, the nomad tribes. Mounted
on horses or camels, armed to the teeth
by the central government, these thugs
are ruthless killers who destroy whatever
Seeds of Genocide
How did it all start? Here’s a thumbnail
sketch. Sudan is the legendary land
of the White and the Blue Nile, of
ancient Nubia, of the heyday of the
British Empire. Khartoum, in the north,
is the capital and center of power. The
United States has a very shaky relationship
with Khartoum. It was in North
Sudan that Osama bin Laden took
refuge in the 1990s, where he nurtured
al Qaeda. He was eventually forced out
by international pressure and went to
Since gaining independence after
World War II, Sudan has seldom seen
peace. The ongoing civil war between
North and South Sudan ended only a
year and a half ago, with the South
gaining representation in Khartoum.
Darfur, a poor district of Sudan to the
west, wanted the same. Earlier in this
decade, a small group of Darfuris attempted to get what they wanted by
force of arms. Those incidents were
seized on by Khartoum as an excuse
to, it would appear, eradicate the entire
population of the region.
My son, George, and two of our
friends—photographer Mike Herron
and David Pressman, a young veteran
of the unfolding Darfur tragedy who
had visited the region just weeks before
our trip—were appalled at what was
Just as disturbing was the apparent
indifference of the rest of the world to
this crisis, which President Bush has
correctly called “genocide.” By last July,
according to conservative estimates,
250,000 have died and the lives of two
million more hang by the slenderest
How George and I Got Involved
George and I had been talking to each
other about it, checking out stories from
good reporters like Nicholas Kristof,
Samantha Powers, Elizabeth Rubin,
Jonathan Karl, Christiane Amanpour
and others. Still, the story had been
pushed off the front pages by other
imperatives. We wondered if we could
change that, even if just for a day.
A rally on behalf of the victims in
Darfur was scheduled for Sunday, April
30. Organizers hoped for a crowd of
5,000 on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
George and I knew a crowd of that
size would be lost on the Mall. The
story would not make the newscasts
at all or, worse, reporters might emphasize
a “disappointing turnout.”
Not long after George won the Academy
Award for his role in the movie
Syriana, he called and said, “Pop, why
don’t we just go over there? I’ll never
have more ‘juice’ than I do now and, if
the celebrity thing means Darfur will
get more attention, let’s use it.”
We knew that our stories would be
unlikely to break new ground. I’m a
good reporter, but no better than those
who had already risked a lot to bring us
the true picture. The wild card was
George. His worldwide celebrity status
might give this tragedy a higher profile
than it had ever had.
Our days in the region (April 14-21)
were fascinating, if grueling. Our efforts
to get where we needed to be comprise
a story all its own. But we knew that
was only a sidebar. None of it would
matter if we couldn’t turn up the heat
on the subject of Darfur.
We rushed back to this country with
our interviews. George started editing
and I started writing. Two days later,
George was on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The next day he had a joint news conference
with Senators Barack Obama
(D-Ill.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).
That afternoon, he and I were interviewed
on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, NPR,
AP Radio and others. The following
day, Katie Couric interviewed us on
The Today Show. Each time, we mentioned
the Sunday rally in Washington,
When that day came, the crowd was
not 5,000. It was at least 30,000, with
some estimates north of 70,000. The
coverage was positive. The stories made
the front page.
The next day, Monday, the State
Department sent its Number Two person
to Nigeria to get stalled Sudan peace
talks back on track. President Bush
called al-Bashir directly, urging him to
return his representative to the table. He
did. Within a week President Bush
made one of his best speeches, pledging
more food and more help for the
peace process. Might this be one genocide
we could stop in its tracks?
But, within two days, we were in the
maw of the inexorable news cycle.
Other stories thundered across the TV
screen, pushing aside the farmers, the
midwives, the children, the elders, the
young girls gathering firewood, all at
mortal risk, in Sudan.
Humanitarian organizations, such as
Catholic Relief Services (see A Relief Worker's Story) and the International
Rescue Committee, continue to do
their work, counting on support from
private citizens as well as the U.S. government.
But the task is huge.
Their faces wake me up in the middle
of the night. All of them. Are they all
right? Did they make it through
another day? Will they ever be able
to go home and live out their lives
I don’t know. And I don’t know. And,
as time slips away, I don’t know.
To read Nick Clooney’s series about
Darfur, go to http://news.cincypost.com and scroll down to “POST
ARCHIVED COVERAGE” and then click
Nick Clooney, a veteran broadcaster for over 50
years, was inducted into the Cincinnati Journalism
Hall of Fame. He requested that payment for this article
be sent to the International Rescue Committee.
Nick and his wife, Nina, live in Augusta, Kentucky.
How You Can Help Save Darfur
by Mary Jo Dangel
AFTER SEEING the crisis in
Darfur firsthand, George
Clooney and his father,
Nick, made numerous TV
appearances and attended a rally in
Washington, D.C., to plead for an end to the genocide. Their journey
was the subject of an exhibit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom
Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Freedom Center’s Web site (www.freedomcenter.org/exhibits/in-search-of-darfur3.html) asks, “How many minutes can you spare for
Darfur?” It includes relevant interviews, facts, links and a list of ways
to save what the United Nations has described as the world’s gravest
• Learn about proposed legislation.
• Send a postcard to President George W. Bush.
• Send an e-mail to your federal elected officials.
• Support African peacekeeping troops.
• Support relief efforts.
• Raise awareness at school.
• Host an interfaith prayer service.
• Read online dialogue about Darfur.
“In my lifetime, we came too late to the Holocaust, to Cambodia, to
Rwanda,” wrote Nick Clooney in The Cincinnati Post after returning from
Africa. “Might this not be the first genocide the world stopped in its
tracks, and might not our little group be a small part of it?”
Donations to help Darfur can be made through Catholic Relief
Services (www.crs.org; 209 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201)
or through the International Rescue Committee (www.theirc.org; 122
E. 42nd Street, New York, NY 10168).
A Relief Worker's Story
by G. Jefferson Price III
FOR MORE THAN a year and
a half, Matthew McGarry
coordinated programs in
Darfur for Catholic Relief Services
(CRS), a humanitarian-relief
agency. War in this
region of Sudan has created one of the
worst catastrophes in Africa’s history.
McGarry worked with 10 CRS workers
and more than 100 local Sudanese
staffers getting food and other desperately
needed supplies to people who
were living with practically nothing.
Kulbus, where McGarry lived for a
year, is the remotest CRS outpost in
western Darfur. Many of the mud-and-brick
buildings in the town have been
abandoned due to damage from warfare.
Kulbus is surrounded by a desert
infested with deadly snakes, dangerous
spiders the size of a man’s fist and
McGarry says his experience was “by
far the best kind of work I’ve ever been
able to do” because of “the opportunity
to interact with the people; the value of
Helping the Survivors
The thousands of men, women and children
who are scattered in places around
the desert where they took refuge are
identified as “internally displaced persons”
(IDPs), to distinguish them from
refugees who have fled the country.
Some ride camels, horses or donkeys.
But most walk, sometimes for miles,
to get the monthly food rations distributed
by CRS and other nongovernmental
organizations. McGarry reached
them in a diesel-driven Toyota Land
Cruiser that could make it through the
deep sand in a land where there are
Because of attacks on aid workers,
he took security steps such as radio
check-ins and monitoring security
reports. When distributing food, his
team often spent 12 or more hours in
the field. On some occasions, distributions
were canceled abruptly when the
food failed to arrive, the Land Cruisers
broke down or the threat of violence
endangered the staff.
“On a day-to-day basis, it’s extremely
hard, thankless work. It’s only when
you’re able to step back and reflect on
it that you feel a sense of fulfillment,”
McGarry says. “It’s nice to see the palpable
change in the environment, from
desperation to hopefulness and an
expectation that things will change for
McGarry, 27, began doing humanitarian
work during his college days at the University
of Notre Dame, when he worked
at a Catholic-run shelter in Des Moines,
Iowa, during two summers. He has also
been involved in relief work in
Nicaragua, Gaza and the West Bank,
South Africa and Zimbabwe. Why did he
choose this type of work? “I have plenty
of friends who are making tremendous
amounts of money and who are monumentally
unhappy,” he notes.
He credits his parents and a strong
Catholic tradition of helping people
in need. “My folks were always involved
in volunteer work, like soup kitchens,”
This past summer, McGarry settled
into a new job in Pakistan, heading a
field office in a region devastated by a
7.6-magnitude earthquake last October.
Unlike the man-made disaster in
Darfur, this time he’s providing shelter
and restoring the infrastructure for people
whose homes and communities
were ripped apart by natural forces.
Some day, the native of Longmeadow,
Massachusetts, knows that
he’ll settle down somewhere. But for
now, he says, “I feel very satisfied and
fulfilled. This is what I always wanted
G. Jefferson Price III was a foreign correspondent and
foreign editor of The Baltimore Sun. Since his retirement
last year, he has worked as a media consultant
for Catholic Relief Services.